Month: June 2011

Pussy cat, pussy cat

We are overrun. There are now four cats living in our house. Yes, we have succumbed to Mallorca’s yearly kitten problem. Last week we adopted two little scraps of fur from an organisation called Gatos de Mallorca who posted photos of the kittens (along with many other furry babies) on Facebook. They were found on the streets apparently, abandoned. Poor things. I’ve got to say, they are sweet, and very well behaved. First thing they did was use the litter tray (meant for the older blind cat, Mitzi, that we homed a few weeks ago) and then ate everything they could get their paws on. A very good start. La Gidg decided on their names: Roger (a brown tabby) and Wayne (ginger, looks like he should be on the cover of a box of chocolates). Tallulah, the original cat we brought with us from the UK, is stoic as ever, as long as none of the interlopers try to take the prime sunbathing spot under the palm tree, she isn’t really fussed.

 

There are now a large amount of animal rescue organisations trying to hold back the flood of abandoned ex-family pets and new born ferals. It would certainly seem to be a thankless task as week after week there are animals being delivered to voluntary animal shelters where they might be able to stay, and also to the council pounds where they have a small window of opportunity for an adoption before they are put down. Ana Aranda Lindsay, who is involved with the organisation www.baldea.org is clear about who is to blame about the current problem ‘It’s the owners, they don’t get their animals castrated, they treat them badly, they let them run around out of control, and then when they don’t want them anymore they abandon them. It’s not the fault of the council workers at Son Reus or at the other municipal pounds, they are only doing their job.’ In fact Ana, and many other dedicated volunteers can be found at Son Reus on a very regular basis, trying to help to rehome the animals. They even have a fostering system which means that if you would like to give an animal a temporary home until a permanent one can be found they can arrange for free veterinary care of the animal, and other help as well if needed.

 

The other thing that we currently overrun with is plums, but that’s a pretty easy problem to sort out. We’ve been bagging them up and giving them to our local jam aficionados, the amas de la casa (our version of the Women’s Institute). We’re expecting an invite to their next soiree. Would you like some jam with your jam?

 

 

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Memories are made of this

It’s almost the end of La Gidg’s time in infant school. In two short weeks she will be a ‘big girl’ and will change teachers and ‘Go Upstairs’ to the Primary school classrooms. From September this will bring with it daily Catalan homework and I believe a new school bag and pencils (according to La Gidg these are vital accessories to her new class).

 

To mark this very special occasion my girl and her entire class (all 12 of them, average age 6) went camping last Friday with her very special teacher, Pilar. Now I can tell you that looking after a couple of 6 year olds is plenty, but managing 12 over excited kids in a field? Wow. Pilar has been the most exemplary teacher for our children, she’s been kind, strict, forgiving, and fun. They’ve been lucky to have her for the past three school years, and we will all be sad to part ways. It’s another one of those ‘Coming of Age’ moments that us parents have to bear as our little darlings grow up. I think we all remember teachers from our school days, hopefully for good reasons, but sometimes for bad ones. I remember Mr Reid who scared me witless, it was rumoured that he had a cane, (yes, showing my age, kids could still get whacked back when I was a child).

 

In preparation for the camping trip we had to put our hands on one of those kid sized sleeping bags. We went to Decathlon, but there were no pink ones, it’s a testament to how excited La Gidg was at the prospect of going that she acquiesced to buying a blue one (only boys have blue you know). The sleeping bag, a torch, Honey the special rabbit toy, a change of clothes, mosquito repellent and something to put on the BBQ were all packed into a rucksack. We met up La Lonja in Port Andratx, and the parents reminisced about the first time they went off on a day trip in a coach, we were all tearful then as well. Finally Pilar, Christina the headmistress, Penelope (in charge of the class below La Gidg’s, even younger kids going on their night adventure!) got their charges into the traditional crocodile formation and off they went to their campsite: cute as buttons, and full of energy.

 

It wasn’t quite the same picture the next day, they’d run themselves ragged. La Gidg looked like she’d been an extra in the movie ‘Deliverance’: she was exhausted, covered in blood from a nosebleed, and wearing the same clothes she’d left in. After a restorative special breakfast in a cafe she was ready to tell us the story. They’d been playing ‘worms’ in their sleeping bags, and charging around the field (next door to the house of one of the parents) with their torches until about 10pm.  She’d bumped her knee, and it was hurting a bit. She’d eaten loads of burgers, and somebody had been very naughty, but she didn’t want to tell us who.

 

‘A good night then hun?’, the answer? An emphatic ‘YES!’.

 

Thanks Pilar. Good luck with your next batch of 3 year old darlings, ours will certainly miss you.

 

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

 

(First published Euro Weekly News 15th June 2011)

Take it easy

If you’ve ever been to our little village of S’Arracó then you must really have wanted to go. It’s the sort of place which you drive through and if you blink, you’ve missed it. I’m not saying that we’re a one horse town, as there are quite a variety of things going on here, and we even have shops which are open on a Sunday, but when I tell people where I live they look at me strangely, head cocked to one side. Where did you say? ‘It’s near to Port Andratx, if you’re on the way to Sant Elm, then you might drive through it’. Ahhh… they reply, still not entirely sure where it is. Which is quite nice really, isn’t it? We’re off the grid a bit.

As a quiet and friendly little village we have lots of families with young children and more than our fair share of cars speeding on the main street, and that’s where the Slow Down S’Arracó campaign comes in. It’s that time of year when the cars start coming through on a country drive from Andratx on their way to seafront paella in Sant Elm, and these cars don’t seem to notice that they aren’t on a winding country road anymore when they blast down our high street.

We live on the main road, and I don’t even let the cats out of the front door (especially not the old blind one we’ve just adopted, who is doing very well thank you for asking), we’ve had one casualty, a kitten who was run over last year, the driver didn’t stop. So failing dressing up as the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny and insisting that everyone ‘Take it easy’ we’re hoping that a few practical measures will mean the kids and the animals in S’Arracó will be able to cross the road.

So far we’ve had our moment of glory on the local telly, which was exciting, and now we’re preparing a petition to take to the council. What we’re after (and coming from London I have so shake myself to believe I am actually supporting this as they’re the bane of the motorist’s life in the big smoke) is sleeping policemen in the road, or chicanes built in the pavement. Anything in fact that will make the convertibles with their happy holiday making and ‘out in the country for Sunday’ drivers just cut down on their speed.

So, please, if you would visit this site http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/reduiumlm-la-velocitat-s39arracoacute—slow-down-s39arracoacute/# and sign the petition that would be most greatly appreciated. When there are enough signatures we’re off to the council for a chat. Well to be more accurate, Tomas, who speaks Catalan, is off to the council for a chat. Any progress will be reported back. Thanks for your support!

http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

Child’s Play

I can’t decide which is annoying me more – the fact that our streets are still lined with political propaganda posters almost two weeks after the election, or the fact that we have less than a month to go before school ends and the seemingly never ending summer holidays begin.

 

On the one hand, it would be great to think that the newly elected politicians are all busily getting down to their new jobs with extra gusto, but on the other, I know that none of them actually take office until the middle of June. So whose responsibility is it to take down all of these posters that were so eagerly and obsessively put up in the middle of the night (waking up my sleeping child in the process). Nobody seems to know, or care. At least in my little borough of Andratx the streets are tidy, but drive through Santa Ponsa or Portals and the many and varied faces of wannabe Mayors are still gurning at us. I am sure our VIVs (Very Important Visitors, a.k.a. our tourists) are fascinated to see the litter and shredded, sun bleached photos instead of taking in the view of the beach. It’s so nice to see that our environment really matters to the people in charge.

 

Although, here’s a thought, why not hang on until the middle of June when all of our school children won’t have a thing to do for three months. Perhaps we can organise a clean up campaign to keep the kids busy whilst we all work the hardest we possibly can to try to make the 2011 season a success. Isn’t it mad? Not only does Mallorca rely on tourism for 80% of its income but it makes it almost impossible to have kids and work in the busiest months of the year. Ah, yes, summer school. So that will be another expense, and one that I can’t claim for in my autonomo expenses.

There’s a thing called lateral thinking, which is defined as ‘solving problems through an indirect and creative approach’, but I don’t even think these issues are worthy of that, just a bit of applied logic should surely be able to solve it. Negotiate with the teachers’ union, make the holidays shorter, get air con for the classrooms, or make it easier for small business owners and employers to help their employees get through the crucial months when we can all hope to put some cash in the bank. And get the bin men to go out around the streets and take down the hundreds, possibly thousands of those signs.

I am a bit fed up with the ‘hey, that’s the way it is in Mallorca’ answer, accompanied with a heavy shrug of the shoulders. I hope the new administration hits the ground running, with a pair of sharp scissors and a great idea what to do with a 5 ½ year old for three months… It could be as easy as child’s play, if they want.

http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

(first published Euro Weekly Newspaper 2nd June 2011)

Bucket List

We’ve just come back from a quick trip to the UK to see my little brother and his longstanding squeeze, (and mother of his two lovely boys) get hitched. It was a wonderfully happy affair. We also stayed with my hard working in-laws, who are both retiring this week and are planning to do plenty of things with their newly discovered free time, much of it revolving around travelling, going to the movies, gardening and playing golf. The two things got me thinking about my own goals, and what I want to achieve in the next (cough) twenty four years before I am supposed to be able to retire, although I doubt when I hit sixty five that it will still be an option…. we can but dream!

What I do know though is that I don’t want to have to wait until I hit the magic number to achieve some of my ambitions, so here I am, making a list – one for each of those years. What’s yours?

  1. Do more (read any) sport – be able to do a handstand, learn tennis, start a netball team, discover if I really don’t like skiing or it’s all in my mind, improve my rifle skills
  2. Learn what to plant and where, milk a cow, raise ducks
  3. Repay the kindnesses that others have given me
  4. Stop using hand signals when I am trying to communicate in Spanish
  5. Get lost for a summer of wandering
  6. Have dinner with Richard Branson and Alan Sugar, and be the one paying the bill
  7. Make a wedding quilt for my daughter
  8. Go hot air ballooning, learn how to do power slides and drive in a rally
  9. Be able to draw more than a stick man and bad daisies
  10. Go on a long train journey across Europe and Asia, go to Alaska and see the Northern lights, go to Tokyo and Bombay, drive across North America and walk the Camino de Santiago.
  11. Do something really big, Live Aid big, for the planet
  12. Learn how to play poker and the piano
  13. Understand the stock market
  14. Do an English literature degree
  15. Go to the Monaco Grand Prix first class
  16. Have a room of my own
  17. Know how to taste the difference between grapes in wine
  18. Spend a week not saying a word
  19. Be so well informed that I can explain the Palestinian conflict
  20. Write that book whilst living in a house by a lake
  21. Get a tattoo
  22. Have a pinstriped suit tailor-made for me
  23. Say ‘quick follow that car’
  24. Be wise enough to know that you can never go back, but that tomorrow is another adventure

 

I’ve read that intention is everything, we’ll see I guess. Here it is in black and white. Tick tock.

 

http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

(first published Euro Weekly Newspaper 26th May 2011)

 

 

 

 

Hasta pronto

When my friend Diane Foden arrived on the island five years ago it was the realisation of a dream that she had held for a long while. Ever since early holidays to Mallorca she had always wanted to live here. We met when she wrote to a magazine that I was working for: the email made me laugh out loud, more than once. She became a writer for the mag, and then another one, and we became friends. When the publications went to the wall, she started a blog www.twocrumbliesandacat.blogspot.com

 

Over the years she and her Significant Other (also known as Norman, also known as Stormin’ Norman to weather fans – never knowingly undersold, well if you don’t count that one time when he said it would be sunny and it wasn’t, but we can allow a little Michael Fish into all of our lives I believe) have become like family to me. Supporting us through some tough times with practical help and the occasional ‘I told you so’, and turning up for the happy ones: birthday parties, opening days, piano inaugurations.  We have gratefully received donations of Tipsy Tart, Java Chocolate Cake and the world’s most amazing Piccalilli.  She and S.O. are champion quizzers in ESRA and recently Di and I were judges for the International Schools’ debating competition. But perhaps the biggest passion in their lives, apart from each other and their family, is the London School of Samba and the Notting Hill Carnival.

All of this stuff is lovely, and they have had a wonderful time living in Soller, being renegade oldies and generally shocking people with their youth accompanied with grey hair (including absolute outrage when someone assumed they were card carrying Tories). They are interesting people, and now they are living in interesting times. Last year Di started to look a bit peaky, she wasn’t feeling well, something was wrong. After an operation, gory details apart, she was eventually diagnosed with cancer, and treatment began. Throughout all of this she has continued to write her blog, writing honestly about how she is feeling, losing her hair, and being driven mad by Enya piped into the hospital ward when she has to endure chemotherapy treatments. Ever the Scouser, she can find humour in the grimmest of stories.

When it became clear a few weeks ago that the treatment wasn’t working, they made a tough decision: to go back to the UK. Diane wants to be closer to her kids and grandkids, and they absolutely have to go to the Carnival this year as she is being honoured by the LSS and given a throne.  She is also the first of twelve models to be photographed by Samantha Hemsley for A Celebration of Women 2012 Calendar in support of the fight against Cancer. She looks stunning in the photos. Di and Norm have also decided to get married (mainly pension related they claim, but I think there’s a sneaky bit of romance in there too), although where or when the wedding will be is entirely down to re-establishing UK residency and whether they snare the flat they want in Harwich.

We went up to Soller at the weekend to pick up excess piccalilli and make arrangements for their cat who is moving in with us, (Mitzi, is old, blind, shy and grumpy:  La Gidg might have a job getting her to dress up in doll’s clothes). I didn’t want to say goodbye. Soon as the wedding date is announced, I’m there: it’s my turn to turn up for the party. Two fabulous crumblies heading home: Mallorca will be the poorer for losing you.

http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

(first published Euro Weekly News May 19th 2011)

Trailing behind

Last Friday night, one minute past midnight, we started to hear the strangest sounds outside of our front door: metal scraping across a road, men talking, coughing and laughing. Some type of hammering noises. What was going on? It was loud enough to wake up La Gidg from her slumber. I leant out of the window and in a ‘cross neighbour’ tone shushed up the twenty or so people who had gathered on the road to put up all of the political campaigning propaganda. You have to wonder how many of them it would take to change a lightbulb. By the morning S’Arraco was covered in posters and banners. And now, after a couple of gusts of wind, it’s all upside down and inside out.

As a foreigner, who works in publicity and marketing, I can only say what a waste of time and money all the political posters are. Not one has a clear mission or message to pass on, and if they can’t even get it right on the election campaign, when they’ve had months to prepare, then how are they going to get it right when they’re in office? I’ve probably been watching too many episodes of West Wing.

I have a vote, my notification arrived last week. I want to vote for the party which is going to ensure that my child is getting a good education in her local school, that is sensible about things like promoting the area to the visitors, but also is reliable and honest. And I just don’t think five different posters of five different men and women grinning is helping me to make up my mind. The literature, what I have seen of it in my municipality of Andratx, is all in Catalan.

Perhaps it’s a Europe wide problem: it’s been a tough week for British politics, the AV didn’t get the response they were hoping for, Nick Clegg’s job is looking a bit ropey, and the Scots are one step closer to independence.

I was having a chat with a friend of mine at the weekend, she is passionate about Mallorca, and improving tourism services here. She wrote a document about fifty different things which could be done to improve the experience that tourists have with very little outlay, and some of the ideas were completely free. She sent it to one of the local potential mayors, the response? ‘Thank you for your message’. Not very encouraging is it. I want someone to inspire us, I think we need good, honest leaders who can see the bigger picture. If my friend were standing (she’s not) I’d vote for her energy and passion and creativity. ‘The foreigners could take over politics, if they wanted to,’ she said. ‘But first they’ve got to care enough to get up and take an interest in what’s going on here.’ Have you registered to vote? Now’s the time to make up your mind how you’re going to cast it… Tick tock.

http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

(first published Euro Weekly Newspaper May 12th 2011)

Where the wild things are

I’m sitting looking at a ticket which was given to my little girl today. And I am steaming mad.

For the past two weeks or so every time we have driven past the Santa Ponsa roundabout we’ve had to have a chat about the circus tent which had been set up there. The first conversation went something like this: ‘Mummy, what’s that over there?’ ‘It’s a circus tent sweetheart’. ‘A circus! Sophie is going to the circus! Can I go with her?’ ‘No sweetheart, you can’t.’ ‘Why mummy?’ ‘Because there are animals in the circus and it’s cruel to treat wild animals like that. Do you see that cage? That’s where the tigers live. They should be running around the jungle, they shouldn’t be in a cage’. Silence…  La Gidg takes it on board. Next time we drove past ‘Look mummy, there’s the circus with all of the poor animals’. There were no more requests to go to the circus, and we cut a deal that she could go to see Pirates instead. (That was last weekend, she had a ball).

Today, first day back at school, and the circus has gone from the roundabout. La Gidg comes home from school clutching an ‘Admit one child free’ flier from the circus which has rolled down the road to Camp de Mar. This time there’s no concern about the poor animals, as her entire class are excited about going and there are plenty of tears when I remind her about the previous deal. How is it that a commercial business can flier my child’s school? Especially when this business is something I am so dead against? Regular transport, cramped and bare temporary housing, forced training and performance, loud noises and crowds of people are all typical and often unavoidable realities for these animals. I won’t support it. Scientific research has shown that travelling circus life is likely to have a very harmful effect on animal welfare for many species, and performing inappropriate tricks in the name of entertainment also does nothing to foster respect or understanding for animals.

I go to have a look at the internet, good old Google. Did you know that there are only two countries in the world who have banned animals in circuses? Guess which ones, Bolivia and China. Can you believe it, not exactly well known for their record in human rights. Not the UK, or perhaps Germany. 94.5 per cent of British people are opposed to the use of animals including tigers, elephants and kangaroos in circus performances. Apparently there is a ban on its way in the UK.

If you want to take your kids to the circus, then try Son Amar, or Pirates, or Cirque Bouffon who will be performing on Parc de la Mar May 11th until June 5th. In the meantime, negotiations will commence again with La Gidg. There are other ways to enjoy yourself, and definately other ways to learn about animals.

http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

(first published Euro Weekly Newspaper 5th May 2011)

Big is beautiful

We are a tall family, I’m 5’9”, Ollie is 6’3” and La Gidg is ‘big for her age’. I hate that term. It gives me such a shiver. ‘Que grande!’ exclaim the Mallorcan mummies at school when they see my baby. I hear ‘Isn’t she HUGE!’ and I correct them, ‘Yes she is tall’.

I grew up, a ‘big girl’ and I really don’t want my little girl dealing with big girl issues when she’s only five. I’m dreading taking her to the paediatrician, they’ll probably put her on some growth inhibitor or something. When I was pregnant the midwife scared the beejeezus out of me by repeatedly telling me I had a ‘gigante’ in my tummy. As you can imagine the birth wasn’t easy with me wondering (read panicking) how matter was going to overcome mind.

 

 

These days she’s wearing clothes for seven and eight year olds, but that is Spanish sizes. I would love to take her to Germany or Scandinavia and find that she was just the right size, in fact, perhaps a little on the small side for her age. Shopping is a misery in Mallorca, not just for her but for me too. There’s simply nothing to buy for the curvier chica or the five year old long legged gazelle. I posted something onto Facebook to see if anyone knew of anywhere to get something glittery for a ‘do’ I had to go to last week. Punto Roma, El Corte Ingles and C & A where the only places recommended in the whole of the island for the larger lady, and lots of online shopping places too. Now online means being more organised and doing more forward planning, you can’t order something online and expect to see it the next day, and what if it doesn’t fit /suit? No, that wasn’t going to happen, so the only option was shopping or borrowing something. As we were about to launch into a long Easter weekend of shut shops the shopping was out as well (which I’ve got to admit I wasn’t heartbroken about). So borrowing it would be. Happily for me my friends have a very optimistic view of what size I am: I popped round to one to try on some of her glittery frocks and couldn’t fit into any of them. But I did manage a jacket, which went with a frock from another friend and so poc a poc it came together.

There has been a decision made though, which if I write it down here should hopefully encourage me to stick to it. A small diet and health kick is calling, not only for myself, but to set a good example to La Gidg – she does share my genes after all. Poor kid.

http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

(first published Euro Weekly Newspaper 28th April 2011)

Just your average Sunday

 How is it possible to go from one extreme to the other? To completely love something you were once totally indifferent to? A thing which I never thought I would do, I have done. I’ve learnt to dive. That in itself is a big deal, if you knew me you’d know why: I don’t like the cold or the wet. I’m not frightened of water; I just choose not to go in it. Or chose, I should say.

I wrote in a previous column about being invited to take a diving course, with the carrot dangling of a ‘secret marine conservation mission’ well, how could I turn it down? I love a good surprise, and there was something about the people who were asking me: Brad and Bea from Ondine Escape, I found their professionalism and glowing enthusiasm irresistible.

I’ve discovered that you don’t have to be cold when you are in the sea if you’ve got the right gear on. I’ve been challenged to do things that my brain told me not to. I’ve made new friends and belatedly found something (my dad tried for years to get me to learn to dive) which is amazingly relaxing.

I wasn’t really prepared for the other things that happened.

From day one we were filmed. At Reads Hotel (who generously allowed us access to their pool) there were cameras in and out of the water. It became normal to be followed around by the filmmaker, David, and cameraman Liam.

Of course all of us, Brad’s ‘young grasshoppers’, speculated about what it was that we might be doing. Could it be picking up rubbish from the seabed, or counting jellyfish, or some sort of protest, or…?  At home my little girl, La Gidg, was fascinated with what I was doing, and wanted to talk about the ocean and her imaginary life as a mermaid. I realised that she knew and cared a lot more about the sea than I did. One of her favourite places to go is the Palma Aquarium to look at turtles and seahorses and marvel at The Big Blue, a huge 8 metre deep tank of fish from Mediterranean waters.  The memory of the tank stirred a suspicion in me… surely not? Wouldn’t going in that huge tank be frightening and dangerous? Especially knowing what lives in there. How crazy to be in the tank and waving at La Gidg watching? The thought tickled me, but no, that couldn’t be it. Could it? From the beginning we had been told we would be visiting the Aquarium for a tour with Education Director Debora Morrison, and then be travelling onwards to our dive site to take part in the conservation project. Knowing that La Gidg would be miffed if she didn’t get to go Brad had said she could come as well. She talked about it for days before.

The day of the secret mission dawned, the rendezvous 8am outside of the Aquarium. Debora and head guide Manon talked us through the different zones, giving us a fascinating insight into life underwater. Then there was a surreal ‘You’ve been framed’ moment when we arrived in front of THE tank in the Aquarium – The Big Blue, you know, the one with the s.h.a.r.k.s. in it.

Our wildest speculation was the right one. David, who I now noticed had an armful of shark tattoos, solemnly told us that we were all going in. I jumped with glee. How much can a person change in three weeks?

Getting in the tank is like trying to join the M25 at the Heathrow exit there are so many fish. But soon we were in, and under. How lucky was I to be 8 metres down holding hands with Brad whilst a 2 metre long Sand Tiger shark powered elegantly past my nose? It wasn’t even the tiniest bit frightening; the sharks (pointy teeth, beady eyes) ignored us: they had swimming to do. And then, I got to fulfil my crazy dream waving at my little girl watching, thrilled to see her mummy diving.

Afterwards we debriefed (i.e. had a beer) and Brad and David’s eyes started shining as they explained what we’d been involved in. David revealed who he is, an underwater filmmaker who with Liam and Brad is making a movie about Mallorca and its endangered shark population. The film is the conservation project: aiming to show sharks in a different light, showing normal people having encounters with them, and dispelling those ‘Man Eater’ myths.

They tell us the reason why these animals are endangered: Shark fin soup. Sharks are caught and slaughtered for their fins, their bodies are discarded back into the sea. Experts put the yearly death toll between 43 and 73 million sharks a year. In the developed world Spain is the biggest supplier of shark fins to the Asian food industry. It’s a shock, and an appalling thing to learn.

And just like that, I do care. Visit http://www.sharksavers.org

Have a secret mission? Contact http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

(first published April 21st 2011 Euro Weekly Newspaper)